′The power is ours′: Remembering Mandela′s release from prison | 60 Years DW | DW | 06.06.2013
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60 Years DW

'The power is ours': Remembering Mandela's release from prison

In 1990, Nelson Mandela was released from prison in South Africa after spending 27 years behind bars. Correspondent Subry Govender remembers reporting from Cape Town.

As a correspondent for Deutsche Welle, I have filed literally thousands of reports from South Africa since the 1970s. But the most memorable coverage is - and always will be - the release of Nelson Mandela from prison on February 11, 1990.

From early morning, I was sitting in my small hotel room, monitoring local TV and radio stations to get the latest about Mandela's planned release. Then I got in touch with DW in Cologne.

"Get as much sound as you can from Mandela and the people," DW's English service head Dieter Brauer told me. Together with other journalists, I jumped into a car and drove to the prison, about 15 kilometers away.

Moral support from Deutsche Welle

I watched from a distance as Mandela walked through the prison gate, holding hands with his wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. He lifted his right hand into the air, giving the power salute. He was smiling and greeting people, while the crowd around me started shedding tears, while some started dancing and screaming for joy.

Nelson Mandela holding hand with his wife Winnie as he is released from prison in 1990 after having spend 27 years behind bars.

Nelson Mandela being released from prison in 1990

Seeing Mandela walking, I felt a lump in my throat. Mandela had been a source of inspiration for me. From 1980 to the end of 1983, the apartheid regime had banned me from working as a journalist. They had disliked my reports for Deutsche Welle and considered me to be a "threat to the security of the state." It was Dieter Brauer who visited me nine years earlier in my hometown of Durban and gave me the moral support I needed to carry on despite the ban.

Some prominent figures from the United Democratic Front (UDF), the internal wing of the ANC, had waited at the prison gate to receive Mandela. They told us that we should gather at the center of Cape Town - where he would address a rally.

When we arrived there, it was a scene I'll remember for the rest of my life: Tens of thousands of people, dressed in the colors the ANC's yellow, black and green. Freedom songs filled the air and the shouts from thousands: "Amandla Awethu" - "Power is ours."

African National Congress deputy president Nelson Mandela gives a raised fist salute to the crowd at the Esplanade in Boston Saturday, June 23, 1990, where over 200,000 people gathered to see Mandela. (AP Photo/David Longstreth)

Sending Mandela's words around the world

Pushing back my own emotions, I went around interviewing people and recording their jovial mood.

When Mandela arrived and took to the stage, there was a massive roar from the crowd. A smiling and jubilant Mandela punched his fist into the air and shouted: "Amandla, Amandla - Power, Power." The tens of thousands of people returned the chant with lively vigor.

I worked my way through the throngs of people to get to the stage and placed my recorder near a mike to capture Mandela's first words to the people of South Africa in more than 27 years. I recorded his entire speech and used sections for my report that evening for DW.

"I stand here before you not as a prophet but as a humble servant of you, the people," he said. "Your tireless and heroic sacrifices have made it possible for me to be here today. I, therefore, place the remaining years of my life in your hands."

I witnessed the dawn of a new era with the release of Mandela - but my greatest joy and honor was that I had the chance to pass it on to the listeners of Deutsche Welle around the globe.

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